Geopolitics

Colombia Drug Cartel’s New Vehicle For Shipping Cocaine: Submarines

Colombia‘s drug barons are going underwater, with million dollar submarines that can ship up to eight tons of cocaine per load.

A captured cartel submarine in US custody (Todd Huffman)
A captured cartel submarine in US custody (Todd Huffman)
Tobias Käufer

Off the east coast of Central America, the Honduran navy recently captured a submarine with some four tons of cocaine and five crew members on board.

The drug mob is now believed to have a whole fleet of submarines used to ship cocaine from producing countries like Colombia and Peru to distributors in Mexico and Africa, where it then can make its way onto the lucrative European and US markets.

Experts have expressed amazement at the technical savvy that lies behind the submarines' design and construction. The boats are built expressly for the drug trade. A few weeks ago, Colombian authorities captured a brand-new submarine in a river in the middle of the jungle. The boat was 30 meters long, and although empty when seized, it had room for four people – and eight tons of cocaine.

"With a vessel like that, it would take you eight, maybe nine, days to get from Colombia to Mexico and you could stay submerged the whole way," says Colombian General Jairo Erazo.

The submarine found in the jungle belonged to the latest generation of narco-submarines, and unlike earlier-generation boats, it is completely submersible. A similar model was found by narcotics agents in Ecuador, another in 2008 in Mexico.

Jay Bergman, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Andean regional director, has called the advent of narco-submarines "a game-changer," and new models are even more sophisticated.

"They've made a huge technological leap forward," says Colombian Admiral Hernando Wills. The propeller-driven boat found in the jungle, which apparently had yet to make its maiden voyage, was 10 meters longer than earlier models.

The submarines leave from the impoverished port city of Buenaventura on the Pacific coast of Colombia. There are enough out-of-work captains and sailors there who, for good money, are willing to risk making such a run.

Buenaventura is one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia. The region, inhabited mainly by Afro-Colombians, is not only where drug transportation is organized, it's also where the cartels deal arms. Marxist FARC rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups are avid takers for the weapons, and also important players in the Colombian cocaine trade.

Drugs for weapons, round-trip

Criminal groups control every aspect of the drug trade in Colombia, from inland production to transportation. They can earn double if the drugs are shipped by submarine to Mexico because, on the return journey, the boats can be loaded with US-made weapons that gangs smuggle over the American border into Mexico.

Experts can only guess at the number of submarines currently shipping tons of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. But even just one delivery of eight tons puts hundreds of millions of euros into cartel coffers.

The black-market price for a kilo of cocaine can be as high as 70,000 euros. Every successful submarine run means sales of up to 500 million euros at street prices. When the cocaine gets to Mexico, local cartels there take over distribution.

The cartels use some of the huge profits to invest in new technology that enables them to run rings around narcotics squads. Before he was killed in 1993, Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar had cocaine flown to Mexico and the States in small planes, one of which can be seen at his hacienda near Medellín, now a local tourist attraction.

When police found the hidden runways used by the cocaine planes, the smugglers began throwing packets of cocaine out of the planes at predetermined locations. When the police got wise to that, the cartels chartered speedboats and used them until the coast guard caught on. And now they have submarines, whose presence cannot currently be picked up by radar systems or by patrolling law-enforcement ships and planes.

Experts estimate the cost of building a narco-submarine at around $2 million; their design requires not only highly specialized engineering skills, but expertise in such fields as fiberglass technology and ballast calculation.

The drug mafia‘s narco-submarines are prompting states to set ideological differences aside and join forces. Even the US and Bolivia, whose diplomatic relations are not good, are working together behind the scenes on a cooperation agreement, and Bolivian President Evo Morales has abandoned his campaign to have the coca leaf declared a part of humanity's intangible heritage. That the record amount of cocaine seized so far -- 25.5 tons -- was seized in Bolivia last year should scare even him.

For over a year, Colombia and Venezuela have been working together to fight the drug trade, with some success: in recent months, 17 high-ranking drug bosses have been arrested.

Read the original article in German

photo - Todd Huffman

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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